Soyeon Yi oral history interview



Soyeon Yi oral history interview


Born-digital video recording of an oral history with Soyeon Yi and interviewer Geoff Nunn, recorded as part of The Museum of Flight Oral History Program, November 28, 2017.


Astronaut Soyeon Yi is interviewed about her engineering career and her experiences as the first Korean citizen to participate in a spaceflight mission. She discusses her academic work in mechanical engineering at KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology) during the early 2000s and explains her motivations for applying to the Korean Astronaut Program during her PhD studies. Yi then describes her spaceflight experiences, including her training in Russia with Roscomos, her time on the International Space Station, and her work with KARI (Korea Aerospace Research Institute) after returning to Earth. The interview concludes with a discussion of Yi’s next career goals and her thoughts on the future of the Korean Space Program.

Table Of Contents

Introduction and personal background -- High school and college years -- Postgraduate studies -- Astronaut application and selection process -- Selected as a finalist and balancing astronaut training and PhD work -- Selected as backup crewmember, training in Russia, and PhD dissertation -- Transition to primary crew -- Launch day -- Arriving at the International Space Station -- ISS experiments and experiences -- Soyeon’s song -- Returning to Earth -- Spokesperson work at KARI and involvement with the International Space University -- Decision to move to the United States -- Involvement with The Museum of Flight and current activities -- Thoughts on the future of the Korean Space Program -- Favorite aircraft and first flight experience




1 recording (2 hr., 19 min., 15 sec.) : digital



Bibliographic Citation

The Museum of Flight Oral History Collection/The Museum of Flight





Biographical Text

Soyeon Yi is an engineer, scientist, and astronaut who, in April 2008, became the first Korean citizen to participate in a spaceflight mission. She was born on June 2, 1978 in Gwangju, South Korea to Gil-soo Yi and Geum-soon Jeong. Her father worked in a farmer’s association bank until his retirement, and her mother was a homemaker. While in middle school, Yi was selected by the Education Office to participate in a special afterschool program for gifted math and science students. She continued her STEM-focused education at Gwangju Science High School and KAIST (Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology), where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering.

During her doctorate studies in biotech systems, Yi became interested in the government’s search for candidates to serve as South Korea’s first astronaut. She applied to the astronaut program and was selected as one of two finalists, along with Ko San. In 2007, she traveled to Russia to begin training with Roscosmos for a flight to the International Space Station (ISS). She was initially designated as the backup crewmember but was promoted to primary after Ko violated regulations at the training center.

On April 8, 2008, Yi and her crewmembers, Commander Sergey Volkov and Flight Engineer Oleg Kononenko, were launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome (Kazakhstan) aboard the Soyuz TMA-12. They docked with the ISS two days later. While on the ISS, Yi oversaw a number of multi-disciplinary experiments on behalf of KARI (Korea Aerospace Research Institute). On April 19, 2008, after 11 days in space, she returned to Earth aboard Soyuz TMA-11 with Commander Peggy Whitson and Flight Engineer Yuri Malenchenko.

Following her return to Earth, Yi worked for KARI as a researcher and spokeswoman. She also attended the International Space University in France and earned a Master of Business Administration at the University of California, Berkeley. In 2014, Yi decided to resign from KARI to pursue other career opportunities. She settled in Washington State with her Korean-American husband and became a college instructor. As of 2017, she was a volunteer at The Museum of Flight, participating in programs to promote STEM education.

Biographical information derived from interview and additional information provided by interviewee.